Thursday, February 01, 2007

Culpeper weighs cost of illegal immigrants

Natasha Altamirano:

The Town Council in Culpeper, Va., has proposed a study to determine the cost of illegal aliens using public services -- an indication that the nine-member body is willing to take a tougher approach on immigration, said council member F. Steve Jenkins.

The first-term council member has pushed for more stringent immigration enforcement since taking office in July, but faced reluctance from others on the council.

At a special retreat in Culpeper on Saturday morning, council members decided to ask local government agencies to determine how much is spent providing health care, educational, legal and other services to illegal aliens.

"I was very pleased they were more receptive to the issue at the retreat," Mr. Jenkins said yesterday. "What triggered the change? An overwhelming amount of support in this community. I believe in my heart -- if it was placed on a referendum this fall -- I believe in my heart it would pass by a landslide."

The study will be modeled after a similar one in Prince William County, which released its results last week, Mr. Jenkins said.

The county's study estimates that its agencies spent more than $3 million last year on public services for illegal aliens.

Prince William County officials say that figure probably is an underestimate, as it lacks data from public schools and the health department, which, like many other public agencies, are not required by federal or state government to verify a person's legal status before providing services.

"While we know the cost of providing each service of county government, in most cases, we have no way of knowing how many illegal immigrants have accessed our services," Prince William County Executive Craig S. Gerhart wrote in the study.

Two bills pending in the House of Delegates would tighten immigration-status regulations.

One measure would require citizenship or legal-resident status in order for a person to be considered a state resident. The other would require parents of public school children born outside the United States to provide proof of citizenship or legal-resident status, but would not prohibit a child from receiving a public education.

Officials in Culpeper hope to have results from the study in the next month or so, Mr. Jenkins said.

Though the staff might face similar data-collection problems as did Prince William, he said there are ways to estimate costs of some services used by illegal aliens.

"You shouldn't need a gorilla to eat you to know one's standing behind you," he said.

He cited using the number of students enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages classes and the costs of court interpreters as possible methods, but acknowledged that those services are used by some U.S. citizens and legal residents.

The study is a step forward in fiscal responsibility and public safety, Mr. Jenkins said.

"We can then turn to our federal legislators and state legislators and say, 'Look at the impact it's having on our community. This is why we need your help -- not just your lip service,' " he said.

The town also might be following in the footsteps of Prince William, Herndon and other localities in training corrections officers at local jails to start deportation procedures for illegal aliens.

A Locust Grove, Va., woman has offered to pay for the training for two officers. The proposal goes before Culpeper's public safety committee today.

Donna Kemp, 63, said she moved to Orange County's Lake of the Woods community five years ago, after watching illegal aliens take their toll on Manassas, where she lived for 35 years.

Ms. Kemp said she is interested in moving to an active-adult community in Culpeper and doesn't want to see the same thing happen there.

"I would like to see people follow the law," she said.

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